Adopting a Baby with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Suffering babies need a loving home.

Joy Lundberg August 06, 2014
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When couples adopt a baby or an older child, they usually have no way of knowing if the child suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome. Some adoption records and background checks of the biological mother will show she used alcohol during the gestation period, which gives the adoptive parents a heads-up.

Most women know that drinking while pregnant can damage their baby. Still, others don’t know or don’t think it will happen to their baby. Young pregnant women may be less likely to consider the prospects of what it may do to their child. If they are accustomed to drinking alcohol already, they may do it during this time to escape the stress of having a baby, especially if they have no way to care for the child. This seriously lessens her baby’s chance for a normal life.

The March of Dimes organization is working to teach mothers the harmful effects of drinking during pregnancy. In an online article on the subject, they said, “Drinking alcohol when you’re pregnant can be very harmful to your baby. It can cause your baby to have a range of lifelong health conditions.

“When you drink alcohol during pregnancy, so does your baby. The same amount of alcohol that is in your blood is also in your baby’s blood. The alcohol in your blood quickly passes through the placenta and to your baby through the umbilical cord.”

In this article they explained that even though an adult liver can break down alcohol, a baby’s liver cannot. They went on to say that, “Alcohol can lead your baby to have serious health conditions, called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). The most serious of these is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Fetal alcohol syndrome can seriously harm your baby’s development, both mentally and physically.”

If women understood the damage alcohol would have on their baby, they would never drink during pregnancy. According to the article, consuming alcohol during your pregnancy can cause the following issues:

  • Birth defects (heart, brain and other organs)
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Early birth (preterm)
  • Low birth weight
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Learning and behavior problems
  • Sleeping and sucking problems
  • Speech and language delays
  • Behavioral problems

What Adoptive Parents Can Do

If you know your child was carried by a biological mother who drank, go into the adoption with your eyes wide open. Know that these developmental problems may arise. This need not stop you from adopting a child who needs a home. You simply need to be ready to deal with the issues your child will likely face.

The outcome for infants with fetal alcohol syndrome varies. Most children with FASD have below-average brain development. According to the National Institute of Health, “Infants and children with fetal alcohol syndrome have many different problems, which can be difficult to manage. Children do best if they are diagnosed early and referred to a team of health care providers who can work on educational and behavioral strategies that fit the child’s needs.”

 Work with your doctor

Alerting your pediatrician to all the facts relating to your baby, including the possibility of his or her having FAS, is vitally important. The more your doctor knows, the better equipped he or she is to help your child grow and develop.

This same article suggested the need to be prepared to provide your child with specific training in social skills. Otherwise, they may be shunned, even bullied, by peers who are turned off by inappropriate social behavior. They may also need tutors in certain subjects that seem beyond their reach at school. It’s a matter of being aware and providing the help your child will need as early as possible. Your pediatrician and family services case workers can help you as these needs arise. Knowing that they may arise puts you in a better position to meet the challenges.

One Mother’s Experience

Shari experienced adopting a child with FAS. She didn’t have proof that the biological mother drank alcohol, but given the nature of the disabilities her child suffered, it was assumed. The birth mother lived in a country where beer was more commonly consumed than water. As her child grew, the disabilities became more apparent.

Her child, Beth, appeared to be normal. She was pretty and seemed bright. However, her motor skills were hampered. She could not do simple things like braiding, learning to play a simple piece on the piano, or dance even a line dance at school, to name a few. She had a difficult time following instructions teachers were giving. When all the other students were able to do it at least to some degree, she was not. The embarrassment was too much for her. For example, during a project at school when all of the children were braiding a simple plastic string key chain, she could not do it. She couldn’t make her fingers do it, no matter how hard she tried.

When a child sees everyone else succeeding at a project that she cannot even get started, she will often turn to inappropriate behavior. To a child, it’s better to be labeled “bad” than “stupid.” She began disrupting the other children, calling them names, and insulting the teacher, saying, “This is a dumb thing. I won’t do it!” This went on a few times before the teacher called Shari. Beth’s teacher was stumped as to what to do. “I can’t help Beth. She is so mean to everyone, including me.”

Her parents tried to explain to the teacher that Beth was frustrated because of her small motor disabilities. They arranged for Beth to do something different so she wouldn’t be embarrassed. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But at least these parents were trying their best to educate the teachers about Beth’s needs. That’s what parents must do. Their efforts turned to focusing on what she could do, not on what she couldn’t. That made a big difference.

In the Final Analysis

Adopting a child with FAS can present an array of problems. This doesn’t mean you don’t adopt a child with this affliction, which you may not even know exists until later. It simply means you go into the adoption with the knowledge that your child will need some specific helps along the way. Being alert and ready to face these challenges will help you meet the task. This child deserves the best chance at life. You may be the very ones to make that happen. As in Beth’s case, she still has problems, but she has a close relationship with her parents and knows they understand. She married a man who also understood and has helped her develop in many ways that have surprised everyone.

You can be a child’s gateway to a happy life. Helen Keller, who suffer tremendous physical disabilities, comforts parents with these words: “When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.”

You may be the miracle in your adopted child’s life. And so will others who help you and your child along the way.

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Joy Lundberg

Joy Lundberg and her husband, Gary, are the parents of 5 children, all of whom were adopted. They are also the proud grandparents of 20 grandchildren. Joy is a prize-winning lyricist and has written/co-written several books and articles about marriage and families with her husband. Learn more about her on their website.


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